Alissa Buckingham and Maria Schirmer: Bringing Culture to Campus

By Olivia Provan & Reilly Pruitt

Spring Fest, dances, and lectures all originate from the minds of Program Board members. Alissa Buckingham and Maria Schirmer are two of the students who help bring Brother Ali and politicians to Macalester’s campus, and will more than likely be presiding over our 10-year reunion. Though they only recently got to know one other, they have already become good friends; even helping each other navigate the affections of under classmen. We sat down with Alissa and Maria to discuss illegal border crossing, growing up Greek, converting to Mormonism, and whether or not Kanye is really coming to Spring Fest.
Alissa, what was it like growing up in Salt Lake City? Were you born there?

AB: I was born in Salt Lake City. My parents both went to Macalester and have one of those cute “we were friends through college and then didn’t see each other for 10 years until we happened to run into each other in a grocery store in Uptown.” Ha, well. I don’t have high hopes for such a story to happen to me here. Anyways, yeah my parents moved to Salt Lake from Minneapolis. My dad is a ski bum, and Utah has really beautiful, big mountains. My mom was working for a company that allowed her to move to Salt Lake, so it worked out for both of them.

Salt Lake generally has a reputation for being pretty conservative, mainly because of the Mormon presence. What was it like growing up there?

AB: I grew up totally on the non-conservative end, not really appreciating Salt Lake as a city. Then I did my own thing and became Mormon, which made it a lot more livable and I became a part of that community.

What caused you to convert?

AB: It was really a lot of things. It’s really complicated. But mainly it was timing and the situation. For me it was a process of finding out was right for me. I decided to convert right before graduation. My family hated it at first, and they tried to talk me out of it. Now they realize that it was a choice I made for myself and it ultimately makes me value my family more.

Maria, did you grow up practicing religion? What role has religion played in your interaction with Alissa?

MS: I grew up Greek Orthodox. Talking to Alissa, I get a completely new perspective on Mormonism. I have learned a lot from her. She embodies someone who requires that people take a lot of action. I also admire that she stays true to herself. It’s a hard thing to do in college and the world. She is very impressive in that way.

You guys are from very different areas of the country. What made you decide on Macalester?

AB: I fell in love with the Macalester campus once I visited. I was hesitant to come to the place my parents went, but it worked out.

MS: Well, I am from Madison, which isn’t too far from here. I had an older sister who went to Carleton and she had a great time going to school in Minnesota. I also had a twin sister who was pretty set on going there. I applied to Carleton, and my sister applied early. So then we had to ask ourselves, “Do we want to go to the same school?” She got in early to Carleton. I got waitlisted, and I knew it was meant to be. I was going to Macalester. We have the best of both worlds. We can both escape, here to the city and me to country.

Alissa, was it difficult coming to a traditionally liberal school after recently converting to a traditionally conservative religion?

AB: I am very liberal for a Mormon. But yeah, there were challenges. Freshman and sophomore years basically consisted of the “get Alissa to drink” game. Then there was the obligatory questions like: “are you married?” and “how many wives does your husband have?” But I have learned to adjust, and I form my religion to fit my life. I have reservations about religion, as does everyone, but you need to make religion your own. I really value the sense of community and family, not just limited to blood relatives. As with any organized religion you have to take it with a grain of salt, but I really found a sense of community and family within the Mormon community.

How did you guys become friends? Have you known each other throughout college?

MS: We have been acquaintances for a long time.

AB: Yeah, we only really became close this year through working together on the Program Board. But we got along really well, really quickly.

What were your first impressions of one another?

AB: Maria is the hot girl who the younger international students want me to hook them up with.

MS: Ha, yeah.well, we first really hung out at this PB retreat where we were the only seniors. Alissa had just come back from France, and I saw her being all cultured and classy. We ended up having a really good time and just got to know each other.

AB: Yeah, we realized we were big losers together.

MS: We both lived in Turck freshman year.

AB: I lived in Doty.

MS: Well, she was friends with my roommate Emily. I think I offended her once. I remember one time you were in front of my door huddled in a blanket and I said something about how you looked like a bag lady. I think you got really offended. It was like 3 a.m.

AB: I guess that’s what I get for sitting in front of your door.

What are some of the things you’re trying to accomplish with the Program Board this year?

AB: There are always huge aspirations but it’s hard to actually reach.

MS: We’re definitely trying to bring a new flavor to program board and make certain positions more active, especially the off campus board to get students off of campus, to concerts, to the Guthrie, etc. We’re doing a lot of lectures and giving Mac students a chance to actually speak with politicians. And of course Spring Fest which everyone loves to talk about.

How did each of you become involved with PB?

MS: This is actually my first time. Basically a bunch of people last year said I should run for PB Chair and as it turns out, no one else ran. We’re actually looking for committee members and people who want to get involved with campus events.

AB: It’s fully interactive. It’s a really good opportunity to get involved.

MS: We don’t cater to a specific group on campus. We’re for all of campus and all types of events so it really helps to have a diverse group.

MS: There’s a committee meeting next Tuesday if people want to help plan Spring Fest. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on, but think global.

AB: Yeah, forget the field house; give us the $60 million budget for Spring Fest.

So, as seniors, do you know what you’re doing post-graduation?

AB: I’m continuing with PB stuff – all the Econ people are traveling to London and getting well-paid jobs, blah, blah, blah. I’m going to Venice Beach, California to work with the Honda Civic Tour. It’s like Warp Tour, but a little more West Coast and low-key. I just got a call from them the other day with an offer to travel around with the bands all summer.

What about you, Maria?

MS: That’s a good question. It changes on a daily basis. I think my goal is mainly just to be happy. My sister is graduating and we are deciding if we want to go somewhere together. But who really knows.